Is blogging criticism? To me, this is a qualitative question, and the most honest answer I can give you is, maybe. I think valid criticism depends on the writer, not necessarily the venue. Nor do I think being able to write good criticism is contingent upon academic prerequisites — a formal education and the speculative authority that implies. While it is true that some writers, regardless of education, experience, or format do not require the mediating hand of an editor to structure an argument, I can tell you that such individuals are a rarity. So without the reflection the editorial process enables, is blogging criticism? Sometimes. The biggest downside of the art blog is its ubiquity. Most just add to the obscenely large and sloppy heap of writing we already swallow as criticism, because even in the print arena, a critical tone and confrontational stance are all too often confused with criticism. But this cannot, in good faith, be blamed on the blog.
When I first started working as an editor, I was writing for both print and online publications including Glasstire, represented on this panel by founder and Executive Director Rainey Knudson. Personally, I never treated writing for a digital publication any differently than I did writing for print. In fact, Art Lies and Glasstire still share more than a few contributors who write features and reviews for Art Lies AND blog for Glasstire, which does suggest that these are not mutually exclusive activities.
While I didn’t find the transition from being a critic to critiquing the writing of others jarring, I did find it revelatory. I quickly realized that my predecessors had long been literally re-writing the bulk of journal. I have phased out this practice. This is not to say that I am opposed to working with inexperienced or even first time writers. Nor am not opposed to variance in tone or unorthodox style, as long as arguments are well supported. I am willing to go the extra mile for anyone willing to address and engage in the editorial process, however brutal it may sometimes be. I think the lack of an editorial filter is a major problem in blogging in general, especially blogs that self-categorize as “art criticism.” This manifests in a few key strategic and structural problems I also come across in “dead tree” publications, but they do seem more prevalent in the blogging arena.
- I’ve had it with the experiential approach to criticism. I really don’t need to know who you had dinner with last night. I could give a crap if it was a “clear and blustery day” when you visited such-and-such exhibition or what Paris smells like in the springtime. Nor do I care for exhaustive descriptions of how many paces, heel to toe, it took you to walk from one end of a gallery to the other, or what this personal journey meant to you.
- Snarky, unsupported quips have nothing to do with critical writing or thinking.
- Communicate — don’t alliterate. Relegate cutesy literary devices to the realm in which they belong — the weekly.
- A critic should not have to resort to interviewing artists to jump-start their thought process or spend half their word count quoting curatorial statements.
All of this builds up to what I think is the subtext of the question, is blogging criticism? While it invokes the revolving door discussion of the state of art criticism, what we need to be asking ourselves is what constitutes good criticism, which is arguably inseparable from the question, what is good writing? Any writer, in any field, regardless of background or education, has to earn their chops. This involves a process of specialization — a process that takes time and, for most, requires some guidance. For the budding critic, this might include the well-intentioned advice of graduate advisors, but in the post-graduate world —and for those of us without a formal education in the arts (myself included),it should also include a competent editor, especially in the beginning of one’s career. Blame it on the blog or the industry of the MFA and all that system implies, but “art critic” seems to be increasingly an entry-level position. In this light, perhaps another subtext to the question posed to this panel might be, to quote the president, “Is our children learning?”
Anjali Gupta is a freelance critic, editor and video producer based in San Antonio. She is Editor-in-Chief of Art Lies and her writing has appeared in periodicals such as tema celeste, Art Papers, Art Asia Pacific, artUS and Public Art Review, and catalogues including the Blanton Museum of Art: American Art Since 1900. She recently served as a Lecturer in the graduate studio art department at the University of Texas at Austin.